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Who is Self Help Sunday?

A little bit about me

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I’m a mid-fifties northern Californian who retired in November 2015. I’ve always liked to write, but haven’t really written much creatively since 6th grade. Sixth grade was when I wrote a story in my AP English class and it garnered a bit of praise from the teacher. Writing that story was almost an out-of-body experience. I woke up with ideas and the writing process flowed.

I read that story recently, and I cringed just a bit. Well, I was only in 6th grade.

Writing has been part of my work life but has mainly been in the form of varying types of government communication: legislative and policy analysis, programmatic and fiscal guidance, and grants. I’m looking forward to just writing what I want and being myself – whoever that is.

Because I’m not always sure. I’m very fortunate to have retired at a young age and it sure beats working. However, it is a transition. I’m still in the process of figuring all of it out.

So this is one of the things I’ve wanted to do: start a blog. So here it is. #blogging101 #retirement #writing

“You will love it!” My first cruise

A review of my first cruise

That was the reaction when most people heard where we were going on vacation. Our first cruise.

For the longest time, a cruise was not something that had a lot of appeal to me. Being in the middle of the ocean with a LOT of other people we didn’t know; small places; no alone time- No thanks. You might pick up here that I’m a bit of an introvert and slightly claustrophobic.

I reconsidered it after my husband had the first of 9 stents placed in his arteries in 2014. An atypical heart patient, he has run 9 marathons and never smoked. We eat better than most people and he has never weighed more than 145 pounds.

But I have learned that there are lots of things in live that can’t be explained. This was one of them.

So we have adapted, by changing to a plant-based diet and adjusting travel plans. In 2016, we had gone to France for my cousin’s wedding and the next month he had a heart attack (he blames all of the cheese). Last year, I wanted to visit my uncle in Germany and he didn’t feel safe accompanying me. Having a heart scare when you are 40,000 feet over the ocean can be a bit of a problem.

So we decided we’d try a cruise. I wanted to go to Alaska to see the glaciers and the wildlife. I was also looking forward to cooler weather after a particularly hot summer in Sacramento. Working with a travel agent, we picked a cabin with a balcony on a higher deck so minimize the effects of motion sickness – another thing my husband is plagued with.

And….. It was a bit of a disappointment. The very things I was concerned about turned out to be issues for me. Lots of people everywhere. Eating meals was rather stressful as it was difficult to anticipate when the best time to go where there wouldn’t be crowds. Several times, we had to circle to area to find a table, swooping in as someone else was leaving.

There were also a lot of lines to go with the crowds. Lines to get on and off the ship. Lines to get on and off buses to go to excursions. And, of course, lines for food.

The food was overall pretty good. There was always a salad bar at lunch and dinner, and usually pasta and a taco bar. I had a hard time at breakfast as there was so much food that we don’t eat, including bacon and eggs. Lots of pastries which I love, but most were pretty average. We realized after one day that we could have room service as part of our fare, so we did that so we could have a quiet time to wake up.

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Another disappointment was the lack of wildlife seen on the excursions. The excursions are activities like whale watching and fishing, and we tried a couple of tamer ones. We took a bus to the Mendenhall Glacier and rode bikes in Skagway but both were overpriced for what we experienced. We saw one spout from a whale and one eagle.

But you can’t beat the beautiful views.

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WiFi is available only for a steep price on board so you are limited to information provided by the cruise. The ship had its own internet system, which was pretty limited in terms of usefulness. There was no real-time map of where we were going (hello! Google earth, people!) or the ability to learn about the area or the culture. I ultimately concluded that this was done intentionally, so to manage what information we received and gearing it towards the on-board cruise “experts” who gave periodic presentations in the main theatre.

So that last part was another thing I didn’t like. Always the selling. We went to a presentation on Levian Diamonds, and since I enjoy jewelry, we went. It was packed. Part of the draw was that there would be prizes and a free 1 carat sapphire. The prizes went to those who were close enough to the front for the presenter to hear their answers, and sapphire wasn’t free. The cost was a sales pitch for jewelry in the store before you could leave. I finally grabbed someone who was on their way out to see what the sapphire looked like. Nothing I wanted so we bailed.

So although I am very appreciative of getting to try this experience, I doubt we will cruise again. I could see how it would be a nice way to travel with family, and there were several groups on board that connected during meal time. For now, I am glad to be home in my own bed and enjoying our not-so-wildlife – our two cats. But I do sort of miss the room service – and the anticipation of what towel pet would await us along with the evening chocolates.

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#cruise #alaska #hollandamericaline #HAL

 

Bracing myself for Father’s Day. After Mother’s Day.

The holidays celebrating moms and dads are difficult when you’ve lost both of yours.

Note: I began writing this before Mother’s Day. Now it’s close to Father’s Day, another holiday I’m not thrilled about – because my Dad died on Father’s day 5 year ago. And whoopee, my mom died last year on the SAME DATE as my dad – June 16. So I’m going to go ahead and publish this, since I’m trying to be better about it.

Thanks for reading.

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Ever since my Mom got sick (2001), I have dreaded this “holiday”. It’s never been a favorite, since I’m not technically a mom. I have two stepsons, but the relationship is not super close although I’ve known them since they were 5 and 8. They have a mom.

I have a mom, too but she died last year. She was gone in many ways well before that. Her behavior changed in about May of 2001 after a trip overseas with my dad. It’s strange what you recall, looking back. I remember her calling me right before she left and expressing some reluctance to go. She was never a big traveler. She had claustrophobia and agoraphobia with a hefty dose of anxiety mixed in. My dad’s position as a professor of surgery meant she had to participate in a lot of social events and travel, often serving as hostess. It was all really hard for her. The term “social anxiety” wasn’t around back then, but I’m sure she had that too.

About a week after the trip, my dad called me as I was getting ready to leave for a work trip. Mom had been hospitalized and from what I remember of the conversation, it was a little unclear exactly why. Apparently, she had been lighting cigarettes and trying to put them in drawers and in general, wasn’t making sense. She had been sleeping a lot, but that was normal for her as she also suffered from depression. I immediately called her at the hospital and talked to her. I think at first she thought I was her sister, who had died a year of two before. Then she talked to me for a few minutes and seemed fairly normal. I was crying and upset. I had long suspected that my dad would institutionalize her at some point. She had always struggled with various mental health issues and her inability to do the things he felt she should was a constant source of conflict between them.

Luckily, a friend convinced me to jump on a place and go out. The visit was a blur of hospital visits and time with my dad where we tried to untangle what was going on. While I was there, I discovered evidence that whatever was plaguing her had been going on for a while. A few months earlier during a holiday visit, I had noticed the mess and clutter but this time it seemed much worse. I found a bag of groceries in the garage that had never made it into the house or refrigerator. I answered a phone call from the insurance agent warning us that the car insurance was about to lapse. I found checks that had mom had started to write but never finished. While visiting her at the hospital, she was convinced that she was moving to Aspen to live with Robert Redford. You can laugh here; we did. She spoke of this with such confidence that my dad spent some time searching their home office files to see if indeed she had purchased some property out there.

Eventually she was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD)  “Eventually” meant that she was tested for anything and everything before this diagnosis emerged. I discovered that most people think dementia equals Alzheimer’s, and I would try to educate people before I tired of trying to explain it. Inevitably, the first question after stating her illness would be “does she know you”. I also got tired of answering that question, because it wasn’t that simple and I’m not sure why it matters to people.

She was 65 the year that she acquired her disease and that was the same year I turned 40. There were many years of mourning who she used to be and trying to grapple with her current state. I straddled roles of listener and supporter to my dad, and the role of acceptance and support for my mom. My own feelings of grief and loss were suppressed, emerging periodically around Mother’s Day, birthdays (hers and mine) and Christmas. I’ve found since her death, missing her and grieving hasn’t been any easier.

Recently, I was at an event where I caught up with her doctor, an expert in geriatric medicine. She said that she had come to the conclusion that we really don’t know much about the brain. And I think it’s true. There was a short period in 2007-08 when my mom seemed to recover. She began wearing makeup and jewelry suddenly and socializing with a person she had met in the facility where she lived. This person became a good friend to my mom and it was so sweet to see them laughing and giggling together. My mom was on a mission to come home, and when she did, the friendship lapsed.

Last year, she went on hospice in April and as I went to buy her a Mother’s Day card about this time last year, I hesitated. Usually I wouldn’t spend a lot of money on cards, as most of the time she wouldn’t open them. This year I did – I was cognizant that this might be the last year she would be around to send a card to. And it was. It’s a terrible thing to be thinking ahead of such things, but that was the reality. When we cleaned out her room, I kept that card.

I find it a bit puzzling/jarring when asked if I was close to my mom. I know this is a common thing to do. But though I wouldn’t define our relationship as close, especially when comparing it to others, it didn’t mean I didn’t love her. As one of my friends said, no one else is your mom.

Still missing mine.

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I’ll Take It

I’ll take all the rain, and all the crazy weather we’re having — we get a lot of the good sunshine so I’m just as happy to wake up to loud water beating down on the skylights. Especially since I don’t have to drive in it anymore!

I’ll take my 25 minutes of indoor cycling, which I squeezed in after picking up my car at the body shop. I didn’t exercise yesterday as I was being mindful of not pushing myself after being sick, so afterwards, I stopped at the gym.

This most recent car repair was body work that I’ve been putting off. I mean, there are lots of others things to spend a couple of thousands of dollars on. My car has had a really hard time of it. I bought it new in 2012, a Toyota Camry hybrid. In 2013, I was hit by my own car in a parking lot and the poor thing had $13,000 damage to it. I ended up n the neuro-trauma ICU with a brain bleed so we both got banged up. The first pic is my car in the parking lot. The woman in the SUV said she slipped and hit the gas instead of the brake…uh huh. The second picture is in the tow lot.

In 2014, someone sideswiped me or rather “end” swiped me running through a red light. Since I stopped at the light and they didn’t, I didn’t get any information on them. Then, I sideswiped a pole in the work garage.  Finally, my husband hit the right front bumper as he was entering the garage. So, there were a lot of dings and scrapes on it, and honestly, I got sick of people asking me  about the biggest dent, since it’s on the passenger side and folks assume it just happened.

I’ll take having my car back! I get antsy not having the freedom of my own car and I realize how privileged this is. I could use my husband’s whenever, but not having my own ride made me feel penned in.

And I’ll take a little weird thing that happened. I stopped at the library after the gym, just to stop in quickly to drop off some things. Well, it’s never a quick stop because the book store always needs help as people graciously donate a lot. So I spent time sorting and shelving and found a surgery text from the 1970’s. I recognized it and the author, someone my dad trained under in San Francisco, and sure enough, my dad was the author of two chapters.

How weird is that. It has bothered me that I never have dreams or feelings or experiences where I feel my dad is close or watching. But this kind of feels like it. So I’ll take it.

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Doing it – imperfectly.

The most prevalent writing advice I hear is…WRITE. I put off writing here because I’m afraid of lots of things. Mainly, it won’t be perfect. It won’t be funny or meaningful No one is going to read it anyway. HEY that should be all the more reason to write!

But I’m doing it anyway.

I had a big idea that if I get my writing space just right (missed opportunity for a pun there), I will magically make the time to write and it will flow. But I’m reading a book by Jen Sincero called You Are a Badass and the most recent chapter resonated with me. Because the author said that she spent all of this time getting her perfect writing space together only to write her first book at her dining room table. So the message is, don’t wait.

Yikes. That is exactly the sort of procrastination path I’ve been on. I have a spare room that became my office many years ago when I had to write a grant all by myself. I was fortunate to be able to work from home during that time, and set things up in our guest room with my cats as my team.

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The mess of the room, above, and Pea Pod, my little former feral, below.

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A few years later, my dad died as did Pea Pod and all hell broke loose for me. The grant writing room became the estate settlement room. I moved two small file cabinets in along with banker’s boxes and have used that space for that purpose since then. Along with being the estate settlement room, it also was the “managing Mom’s affair’s” room, as she had dementia so I was in charge of her bills and her car. When she died last year, the room went back to estate settlement decor.

Between and among those times, I retired and made some movements towards it being writing room, and even more. After a bit of a detour into clinical depression, circa 2014-15, I began using meditation and yoga more and hoped to also have a dedicated space to heal. Estate settlement means someone has died and when that someone is your dad and then your mom, there is a lot of crying involved. I’ve cried a lot in this room. I have a shirt and vest of my dad’s and the first year he was gone I would put my face in those garments and try to smell every last part of him. I’ve added a shirt of my mom’s and a blanket that used to be on her bed.

So I guess the point is, I’m writing. And doing it even if it’s not perfect. On a portable table from Costco, and remnants of paperwork abounding. And even space for my new team, who are really good at helping me heal.

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Taffy and Trinket – rescued May 2015

What I DO like about the holidays

A few things I like about this time of the year

The last blog I wrote was a bit of a downer. So I want to offset that some by offering up what I do like about the holidays.

The lights. I love that people take the time and effort to decorate, especially with lights. We are not so inclined. I do love driving through the neighborhood and seeing the different displays. I think the world would be a lot more cheerful with lights up all year round. But I do understand not wanting to pay the energy bills.

Mint m and ms. I love them. Not the dark chocolate m and m’s; i LIKE those but I love the holiday mint ones. And I think they’ve changed over the years. They seem to be larger in size than in the past. But the same great taste. I am ashamed that I’ve already gone through several bags already.

Gingerbread. Especially the cookies that you can get at Trader Joe’s. Yum. The little ones with the white fudge icing.

Hallmark movies. I do enjoy a good cheesy Hallmark movie. One year I got hooked because the first one I watched was The Nine Lives of Christmas.

I mean, it has cats, a fire fighter, and a female veterinarian. What’s not to like???

I like the change in weather. Here in California, we don’t have extremes but in Sacramento, the leaves change and it gets plenty cold. I like wearing sweaters and fleece and taking a hot bath.

So there are a few things I like about this time of year. Even if some of these same things makes me wistful and sad. What are a few of your favorite things?

#Christmas, #m&ms, #traderjoes

Holiday Decorations

 

I got down some of our holiday decorations today in a sudden splurge of inspiration. Maybe it was watching the Kardashian’s Christmas special…where money is no object and there are vast sweeping entry ways to stage a grand tree.

This is what our tree looks like.

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Yes, that is an artificial tree on our barbeque. Outdoors.

I love a good Christmas tree and who wouldn’t enjoy having a DECORATOR like the Kardashians to do all the work and make things pretty. I’m just realistic. We have these two to contend with – our teenage girls who get into anything and everything.

 

I can’t even leave toilet paper on the roll anymore. Taffy gets frustrated and tears into it.

It’s been years since we’ve had a real tree. For a couple of years when my husband’s kids were younger, we’d get one for his house in the Bay Area. I wouldn’t bother, because we’d end up going to my parents’ house in North Carolina and what was the point to be gone and have to come home and take it down. And my husband, who we call Mr. Safety, worried about dry trees and house fires.

This time of year is a bit melancholy for me. We used to be with my parents’ over Christmas and despite being its own kind of hard, it was what we did. There were usually a few social events to attend and my dad did his own best at decorating. He bought a really nice artificial tree from the airline magazine one year – it was perfect for him because you basically unfolded the thing and it was decorated and pre-lit. We’d get to the house and he’d already decorated. We would also be treated to the story of his childhood plastic Santa and reindeer toy that graced the mantelpiece; a little worse for the wear after spending summers in a humid un-airconditioned attic.  It broke my heart a little when I tossed the tree onto the thrift store loading dock after he died and we were clearing out the house. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do the same to the plastic Santa.

Holidays there were further complicated by my mom’s illness. Holidays are a variation on a theme when your mom has dementia and you live 3,000 miles away. Over the course of the 15 years my mom was in assisted living, I’d spend the 4-5 days there taking her to appointments so my dad would get a break; help get new clothes or take her shopping; act as hostess for my dad so he could reciprocate with the neighbors who invited him for dinner every Sunday. On Christmas Day, we’d have to organize the schedule to optimize the chance that Mom would be able to participate in opening gifts and eating a meal with us. It was a dicey situation — sometimes she wouldn’t want to get out of bed when we came to get her, and when we got her home, she had little interest in opening gifts. She was also impatient about food and would continually ask when we would eat, or get into dessert or continually ask for a diet Coke. I used to joke that she was royalty in another life because she was always asking us to get her something.

My mom died this year, on June 16. The same day my dad did, four years ago. So as much as those holidays were difficult, they are more so this year because she is no longer on the earth. I have such mixed feelings about her death. She lived with a cruel illness for too long. But what I would give to see her again.

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The unexpected.

I broke my ankle on Monday trying to get into a kayak. No I wasn’t drinking….just coke zero. Having fun hanging out with some friends on Labor Day.

It was my turn to go kayaking – my friends are very generous and allow us to use theirs since we don’t have kayaks. So I straddled the kayak and then…I slipped. My right ankle gave way and I fell ON IT. And into the water. Which was funny, actually except I couldn’t get up without help. And realized right away I shouldn’t get into the kayak, so I walked back up to our table and sat down, feet up, and someone got me a big bag of ice.

My ankle and foot began swelling immediately. We left soon after, me needing a lot of help getting to the car. Once home, I continued to ice and elevate my foot.

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At the doctor the next day, an x-ray confirmed a fracture. I was in an air cast for a week, and got a boot during my visit to orthopedics yesterday.

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This experience has been painful and emotional. I’m having a hard time getting around; the crutches and walker hurt to use. My sister brought over a wheeled walker, which is better. But I still get exhausted trying to get around and have to depend on my husband for a lot of help.

This isn’t easy for me. I am very independent. I’m still trying to do things myself and putting weight on it more than I should. It hurts. And I’m frustrated.

I don’t ask for help easily and I know this is a problem. My parents were both stoic Mid-Westerners, and the “up by the boot straps” mentality runs deep. But I know that ignoring the need for help can be risky. My tendency is to go go go and ignore what I need. This got me into trouble 3 years ago, after my dad died and I had to manage things related to his estate, and take over the responsibility of my mom’s care.

Being disabled this way, even temporarily, made me sympathetic for those who have permanent physical challenges. And it made me really sad thinking about my mom, and how she was that way for a really long time – she acquired dementia at age 65, and had other illnesses including COPD, and limitations from a stroke. So I’ve been crying some the past few days, as I remember my mom and her bravery as she faced so many health hurdles.

Well, the cats have found the walker interesting and haven’t hesitated to claim it as their own. foot (2)

So will leave that here.